U.S. Must Rethink Its Nuclear Policy

 June 9, 1998

By Alan Cranston
San Francisco Chronicle

India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear tests reveal the impotence of current policies intended to prevent proliferation. Moralizing appeals, threats of sanctions and offers of military and economic aid for not testing have done nothing to contain the crisis.

Broader efforts by the Clinton administration also failed to prevent it, including supporting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and twice declaring national emergencies to deal with proliferation.

Since all this failed to head off a new arms race, our priorities need shifting. U.S. nuclear policy currently ranks nuclear threats in the following order:

– First, rogue governments may acquire weapons of mass destruction. To prevent that, the United States prepared to go to war to enforce the weapons inspection regime in Iraq.

– Second, terrorists and criminal syndicates may acquire nuclear weapons.. A recent string operation in Florida revealed attempts by organized crime to trade heroine and cocaine for nuclear weapons, and Russia’s General Alexander Lebed says criminals already trade drugs for Russian conventional weapons.

– Third, inadequate command and control of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal may allow theft or illegal sale of nuclear weapons, or an accidental nuclear attack on the United States.

Compared with these nightmare scenarios, the more mundane prospect of respected, stable democracies like India and Pakistan reigniting nuclear proliferation had to figure fairly low on the list. Yet it happened.

The fact that we failed to see it coming indicates a blind spot in our policy outlook. It goes beyond the remarkable failure of U.S. intelligence to anticipate India’s tests. India also warned us for decades that the monopoly of five nuclear powers-which just happen to be the five permanent members of the U.S. Security Council-would not be tolerated forever by the rest of the world.

Far from working toward disarmament, the United States reiterated last year that it will “continue to rely on nuclear arms as a cornerstone of its national security for the indefinite future.” We are even exploring new generations of nukes using high-tech subcritical tests and computer simulations of advanced weapons prototypes.

Technically, these nonexplosive tests might not violate the letter of the CTBT. But they certainly violate the spirit of moving toward disarmament and undermine other nations’ incentive to refrain from developing their own arsenals.

India also denounced U.S. subcritical testing, called the current global regime on nuclear arms control “discriminatory” and protested the failure of the nuclear states to honor their NPT commitment.

More nations may well abandon the current international arms control regime if the United States keeps stonewalling the many calls for progress toward nuclear abolition. To prevent more countries from breaking ranks, we should make taking serious steps toward worldwide disarmament a top policy priority. Nothing less will shore up the struggle to prevent other nations from following India and Pakistan down the nuclear path.

Alan Cranston represented California in the U.S. Senate from 1969 to 1993, serving on the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.

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